With the projected population boom of older adults, more families than ever before will be discussing long-term care options with aging loved ones.
The good news for these families is that we’re in the age of Zoom, iPhones, and high-speed internet – plus older adults are growing increasingly tech-literate. In other words, there’s tech out there that can keep families connected and preserve older loved ones’ autonomy.
But it’s not in every senior living community. And for today’s (and tomorrow’s) retirees who rely on the internet and smart devices, a community’s tech stack can be a make-or-break factor.
We’ve regularly used this blog to highlight how technology can improve the lives of senior living residents. To get a better sense of what that feels like on the ground, we spoke to Janice, a resident from Royal Oaks who, since retiring, has embraced technology with open arms.
“When I worked for Bank of America, the building had computers, but I didn’t have one at home.” Janice went on to mention that “the first computer I owned actually used those small floppy disks – no hard drive. So when I retired, I made it my goal to learn all about computers and different programs.”
Read on to learn how senior living technology attracted Janice and her husband to Royal Oaks – and what questions you should ask about a community’s technology before moving in.
1. What technology do you have?
Janice offered us some really helpful framing here: “Before my husband, Dave, and I moved to Royal Oaks, I’d started delving into computers and tech – helping friends and family,” she told us. “That was important for me to have in a community. The technology was important.”
Janice isn’t alone on this. Lots of older adults and their loved ones want to know A) the technology a senior living community offers to residents and B) how that community uses technology to improve the lives of its residents.
For example, does the community have digital displays that broadcast daily menu options? How about a smartphone application that residents can download to quickly view their activities calendar?
2. What tech do you have to support hearing loss? Vision loss? Mobility loss?
We’ve written a lot about smart home tech. One thing Janice highlighted is how useful that technology can be for those with changing abilities. “[Amazon] Alexa is very popular here. Dave and I are blessed to be able to get around easily, but it’s just so much more convenient to say ‘Hey, Alexa, turn on Dave’s light.’”
Before moving to a senior living community, Janice, like many, knew to consider what levels of care the community offered. But not a lot of people know about the value that senior living tech plays regardless of care type.
Royal Oaks, for instance, provides every resident with a Vigil Pendant that they can use to call for help or assistance anywhere on campus. The Amazon Echo (Alexa) offers a similar on-call value. “Let’s say I fall,” Janice pointed out. “I could say ‘Alexa, call security,’ and it would ping our security department who could then come to help.” That type of round-the-clock assistance is valuable at any stage in residents’ lives. And that value extends to other technology, like wearable devices.
Janice mentioned a time when Dave’s Apple Watch notified him of an irregular heartbeat. That early detection helped him get the care he needed – quickly. “I was even able to go to the Apple Watch’s app,” Janice told us, “and print a chart of Dave’s heart rate from that day for the cardiologist.”
3. How do senior living residents embrace your tech?
It’s one thing to have technology. It’s another for residents to understand it. And it’s another for them to embrace it. That’s something Janice highlighted as part of her experience leading “Tech-Connect,” a resident-led technology committee at Royal Oaks.
“When I came to Royal Oaks, there was a computer club with maybe six residents in it,” Janice said. “Now, as Tech-Connect, we have about 20 resident volunteers who help with everything from laptops to tablets to printers to phones.” In other words, residents at Royal Oaks have become more interested in technology and more invested in learning how to use it. A huge part of that interest boils down to the user-friendliness of your tech.
When communities have the right piece of technology that’s easy to use, it makes life better for everyone. “I can’t tell you how important our resident portal is, “Janice emphasized. “It’s a valuable, valuable tool.”
4. What resident-owned tech can you support?
Even if residents don’t know exactly what’s going on behind the scenes, technology like digital shift schedulers and communication platforms makes their lives easier.
But what about support for the technology residents will increasingly bring with them?
For instance, Janice’s phone wasn’t given to her by Royal Oaks. But she can go to people within Royal Oaks if she needs help with it.
“We have an area here at Royal Oaks that we call The Hub,” Janice said. “It has a couple of computers and a printer that every resident is free to use.” The Hub, coincidentally, is also where Tech-Connect congregates and helps residents with, as Janice puts it, “any device they can carry with them.
“With the growing reliance on Tech-Connect, our Home-Help process (where members go to individual resident’s dwellings) has become quite challenging logistically. That’s why The Hub is our main area for residents to get help.”
5. How can my loved ones who live offsite use technology to stay in touch?
“During COVID, there was another learning curve for us – to understand Zoom so we could stay in touch with friends and family,” Janice noted.
This isn’t unique to Royal Oaks, either. Lots of communities rapidly adopted communication tools to keep loved ones connected. But Janice pointed out something noteworthy here: don’t forget the more “standard” forms of digital communication.
“Email,” Janice highlighted, “is still very popular and important for residents to communicate with loved ones.”
Of course, even for something like email to work effectively, communities need strong WiFi networks with plenty of bandwidth. After all, internet is an important building block for any technology implementation – no matter the scope.
6. How often can I expect to use technology on any given day?
Older adults aren’t a monolith. Some, like Janice, can’t get enough technology. Others may prefer analog systems. But, by and large, Janice noted that the resident response to technology at Royal Oaks has been incredibly positive.
“Now, various departments upload scheduling information, activity calendars, and event sign-ups on our portal,” Janice explained. “Residents use it more now, too.”
It’s not just engagement portals that the residents at Royal Oaks use regularly, though. Janice reiterated Amazon Alexa’s value. “That device is popular because you can play music, check the weather, set medication reminders, create lists – Dave and I even have a preset grocery list that we add to whenever we’re running out of something.”
7. What happens when the technology malfunctions?
It happens. Technology breaks and misfires. What’s important is that communities have ways to correct any issues that pop up. Royal Oaks has two groups it can rely on in these cases:
- Its attentive onsite IT Department.
“If I have a problem with my portal or Alexa and don’t know what to do,” Janice said, “our IT department is my number one resource.” But for other residents, Tech-Connect is their go-to. And that’s not just because the volunteers are so friendly and helpful – it’s also because of how the Tech-Connect team and others built the committee.
“When you’re a member of the team, you give us a list of what your skills are,” Janice explained. “If a resident calls with an Android phone problem, we could look at our team members and say ‘Okay, Chris can help because he listed “Android operating systems” as a skill.’”
Another resident didn’t think she had enough talents to be in Tech-Connect, with PrintMaster being her main skill. But she was encouraged to join the team. Sure enough, within a week or so, Tech-Connect got a request for help with PrintMaster.
When it comes to technological problems, Tech–Connect doesn’t worry about finding one person who can solve them all. Janice and others have assembled a team that, together, can solve those problems. Janice’s favorite acronym for the team that makes up Tech-Connect: Together Everyone Achieves More
8. What kinds of technology training do you offer residents?
Ongoing training is critical for any senior living technology investment to pay off. And Janice can personally speak to the value that training provides.
“If you’re a new resident,” Janice said, “our IT department will get you set up and do everything from connecting your coaxial cables to plugging in your printer.” Tech-Connect plays a key role here, too. “Down the road, if residents have problems or want to learn more, Tech-Connect can always step in and help.”
Janice also told us that Royal Oaks occasionally relies on outside vendors for more complex technical questions. But even those situations are rare – largely because Tech-Connect and Royal Oaks’ IT department do such a good job.
9. How do you define your relationship with technology?
Of note, this is different from our first question (“What tech do you have?”). Still, current and potential residents can pick up on a community’s relationship with technology in some key ways.
For instance, Janice told us new residents at Royal Oaks are welcomed with care packages that include an Amazon Alexa product. At first blush, this doesn’t seem to highlight Royal Oaks’ relationship with technology. But Janice went on to explain why it does – and that comes from what goes on behind the scenes.
“Four or five years ago, our marketing gal came to Tech-Connect and said that Royal Oaks was planning to put an Echo Show in every new resident’s welcome basket. She wanted to know if Tech-Connect could help set them up for new residents.”
Janice went on to emphasize that this meeting kickstarted the Amazon Alexa learning process for herself and others – and that the heads-up gave them the time to ask questions and understand the technology before teaching it to others.
For residents receiving these Echo Shows, the welcome gift served as a gesture – an encouragement to try new pieces of technology. It also created an opening for current residents like Janice to meet new residents, make them feel welcome, and ensure they felt confident testing out their new devices.
That is what a healthy and productive relationship with technology looks like in a senior living community. The community sees a benefit in adding technology. They create a plan. They share that plan with stakeholders ahead of time. And only after everyone’s on the same page do they offer the technology.
10. What’s your process for adopting technology?
We’ve said it before. The way senior living technology is implemented often determines its long-term success. Janice can speak to that from the resident experience.
“Our resident portal adoption process,” Janice said, “was a benefit in and of itself.” One reason she credited for the success was Royal Oaks’ decision to use existing tools when preparing residents for a new one.
Those existing tools? Phone calls and printouts. “They made sure to call us [announcing the portal adoption]. And our mailboxes were filled with the announcements,” Janice stated. These materials didn’t just help introduce residents to the new technology in their community; they also served as valuable resources for lifelong learning. After all, the how-to guides didn’t just disappear. Residents could file them away for future reference.
Now that Royal Oaks has fully adopted the resident portal, Janice and other Royal Oaks’ residents still get all the information they need. But it’s shared differently – and faster. “Nowadays our internal mail slots are pretty empty. All the community information is available on the portal.”
That positive result is due to the tech education that Royal Oaks supports, whether through its onsite IT department or through Tech-Connect. And it’s never too late to explore something new technologically. Residents are constantly learning from each other and from staff.
Look For Resident-Centric Technology That Supports Older Adults throughout Their Stay
Moving to a senior living community is an important, emotional decision for older adults and their loved ones. But it’s one that Janice couldn’t feel happier about.
“I don’t mean for this to be of a very serious nature,” Janice stressed, “but the most exciting thing about living at Royal Oaks is the peace of mind in knowing that whatever we might need is right here – and that we’re cared for.”
The technology Royal Oaks uses and supports is a big part of that. And that’s why Janice and so many other residents use the tech – because it was implemented for them and with them.Interested in learning more about how the right senior living technology can attract residents to your community? Request a demo or shoot us a message!